If choosing from a loaded ILB group in our Team for the Ages contest wasn't hard enough, try being a lifelong Chicago-area native and not simply rolling with three Bears and calling it a day. After all, few would argue, as no NFL franchise comes close to matching Chicago's storied LB tradition.
Nevertheless, partially to avoid the homer comments, but mostly to make this a more fun and objective test, I chose just one Bear — Dick Butkus (who else?) — alongside Ray Lewis and Jack Lambert.
Lambert was the nearly decade-long defensive captain of the "Steel Curtain." And in many ways, he sort of resembles the modern day LB prototype in terms of production and stature. Lambert was only around 210 pounds, at least 30 less than Butkus and 25 shy of Lewis, and showcased the speed and range we see in today's horizontal game in playing as effectively in retreat as attack mode.
Far from just a tackling machine, Lambert filled the stat sheet across 11 seasons: 28 (!) interceptions, 17 fumble recoveries and eight sacks. A four-time Super Bowl champion and eight-time Pro Bowler, Lambert is one of the greatest linebackers ever.
Lewis' legacy is complicated, of course, by his guilty plea to obstruction of justice charges in connection with a double homicide, much less consistently putting his foot in his mouth in his post-playing career as a remarkable hypocrite.
But based strictly on his football resume, Lewis' credentials for appearing on this list are obvious: 13 Pro Bowls, 10 first-team All-Pro nods, and a pair of Defensive MVP awards and Lombardi trophies, including Super Bowl XXXV MVP. He was one of the more frightening figures in the game because of his size, speed, physicality and for routinely knocking ball carriers into different zip codes. He led the Super Bowl-winning 2000 'D' that still holds the NFL record for fewest points surrendered (165), including shutting out a quarter of their opponents.
Then there's Butkus, my dad's greatest football hero, a player universally revered for his violence and reckless abandon on the field but perhaps not recognized enough for his versatility (22 career interceptions, including at least one in all nine seasons) and leadership.
Simply put: Butkus was the Bear all the Bears greats who came after him at the position tried to emulate. You can feel his passion, his intensity and, yes, his brute force simply by watching his highlights. A first-ballot Hall of Famer whose career was cut short by injuries after only nine seasons, Butkus feared no one but was feared by every one of his opponents.